The Democrats could really screw this up

Over here on the non-wacko end of the political spectrum, we dismiss the stereotype of Democratic disorganization, dysfunction and dumb moves.

But does it look to anyone else like they’re doing it again?

I’m still figuring out whether the Clinton-Obama head-banger, by itself, is a bad thing. It keeps the candidates in the news, which may be a plus. Nobody’s going to pay much attention to John McCain while the two Dems are ripping at each other’s carotids.

On the down side, if the Demo dope-slapping hogs the headlines, the electorate may overlook McCain’s Dance of Appeasement, in which he tries simultaneously to embrace the hard-core right, the undecided middle and the Hillary-haters on both sides. Wouldn’t it be a pisser if voters got so sick of ClintBama that McCain emerged in fall as a fresh new face?

There’s also the potential for collateral damage. The Democrats battling to convince voters of their maturity and judgment have been reported this week to be “squabbling” and “bickering,” terms dripping with implications of pettiness. The electorate expects a certain amount of that, but as spring gives way to summer, repetition may take its toll. Just by keeping his mouth shut, McCain could come across as the reasonable adult. Voters claim to crave change, but as Jon Stewart observed, “On Election Day, they may decide that a 71-year-old white man is all the change they want.”

Even that, though, could blow over. People really do seem sick of secrecy and sham, of hollow threats and hollow promises. If the Dems firmed up, stood tall and acted decisively … which brings us to the point where, traditionally, they walk into ambush. This year, I’m guessing the killing fields could be in Florida and Michigan.

When those two states broke the rules, and the party punished them by excommunicating their delegates, some of us cheered. An effective criticism of “liberals"—however the term is defined by the critic—is that they’re wishy-washy, soft on whatever their opponents are marketing as menace-of-the-moment. When they punished their own for stepping out of line, they defused, to some extent, that argument.

But now look. The decision to ignore the disobedient states has turned out to be awkward, and the party is rethinking its firm stand with an eye to Jello-izing it.

That rumble in the background is Rush Limbaugh clearing his throat before launching a tirade. Is my party completely tone-deaf?

Just reversing the call, saying, “We’ve decided those voters shouldn’t be disenfranchised,” would be bad enough, but at least it has a ring of respectability. Squabbling and bickering on the way to a decision dilutes that, and sneaking around trying to finagle a way to do it on the cheap pretty well nails down the lid.

Six months ago, or even as recently as Christmas, the possibility of the Dems blowing 2008 seemed remote. The Worst President Of All Time was in full stumble, using the Constitution as a cleaning rag and abusing the power of his office every day. Even usually loyal Republicans were backing away from their party’s policies.

Now, not so much. The latest polls I can find show that if it comes down to Clinton-McCain, Hillary leads by a statistically meaningless two points. Obama would edge him by perhaps six—but that’s now. The election is far away, and Karl Rove reportedly is already drawing a paycheck from the McCain camp.

It’s still hard for me to believe the Dems could screw up so badly they could lose this. If I had to bet on it today, though, I’d want points.